Overconfidence can be misinterpreted by others as greater skill, perpetuating social hierarchies, study finds – ScienceDaily


People who see themselves as belonging to a higher social class may have a tendency to over-believe that they are more skillful than their equally capable lower-class counterparts, and that overconfidence can often be misinterpreted by others. as greater competence in important situations, such as job interviews, according to a study published by the American Psychological Association.

“Benefits breed benefits. Those born into the upper class rungs are likely to stay in the upper class, and high-income entrepreneurs come disproportionately from well-off and highly educated families,” said Peter Belmi, PhD, from the University of Virginia and lead author of the study. “Our research suggests that social class shapes the attitudes people have about their abilities and this, in turn, has important implications for how class hierarchies are perpetuated from generation to generation. “

The study was published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

Belmi and her colleagues conducted a series of four surveys examining the link between social class and overconfidence and how this might affect the perceptions of others about a person’s competence. The largest involved more than 150,000 small business owners in Mexico who applied for loans. To measure social class, the researchers obtained information about the income, education level, and perceived position in society of these applicants as part of the application process.

Applicants were also required to complete a psychological assessment which would be used to assess their creditworthiness. Part of this included a game of flashcards, a cognitive test where participants see an image that disappears after pressing a key and is replaced with a second image. They must then determine if the second image matches the first. After completing 20 trials, applicants were asked to rate their performance against others on a scale of 1 to 100.

When the researchers compared the actual scores with the candidates’ predictions, they found that people with more education, more income, and a higher perceived social class overly believed that they would perform better than others, compared to others. to their lower class counterparts.

Two other surveys involving more than 1,400 online participants found a similar association between social class and overconfidence. In one, the researchers gave participants a trivia test. Those of a higher social class thought they were doing better than others; However, when the researchers looked at actual performance, this was not the case.

For the final survey, the researchers recruited 236 undergraduates, each took a 15-item quiz, and asked them to predict how they performed relative to the others. They also asked them to rate their social class and the income of their families and the educational levels of their mothers and fathers. A week later, the students were brought back to the lab for a mock job interview that was videotaped. Over 900 judges, recruited online, each watched one of the videos and rated their impression of the candidate’s competence.

Once again, the researchers found that students of a higher social class tended to be more confident, but they also found that this overconfidence was misinterpreted by judges who viewed their videos as greater. skill.

“People from a relatively higher social class were more confident, which in turn was associated with being seen as more competent and ultimately more hired, even though, on average, they were no better on the job test. trivia than their lower class counterparts, ”Belmi said.

Part of the overconfidence effect may be due to differences in values ​​between the middle and working classes, according to Belmi.

“In the middle class, people are socialized to differentiate themselves from others, to express what they think and feel, and to confidently express their ideas and opinions, even when they lack specific knowledge. In contrast, working class people are socialized to embrace the values ​​of humility, authenticity and knowing one’s place in the hierarchy, “he said.” These findings challenge the widely held belief that everyone thinks they are better than average. Our results suggest that this type of thinking may be more prevalent among the middle and upper classes. “

The findings join a growing body of research into why class-based hierarchies continue to persist generation after generation, according to Belmi.

“Our results suggest that finding solutions to alleviate class inequalities may require focusing on subtle and seemingly harmless human tendencies,” he said. “Although people are well intentioned, these inequalities will continue to be perpetuated if people do not correct their natural human tendency to confuse impressions of confidence with evidence of ability.”

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